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Arkansas to fund Wi-Fi access points for students in the state

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that he allocated $10 million in funding to provide 20,000 Wi-Fi access points for students across Arkansas in preparation for the state’s return to school in August. He made the announcement in his regular COVID-19 press briefing at the State Capitol on Monday.

The funds for the access points will be distributed to districts based off their need, with the district responsible for choosing the wireless vendor, the governor said. The $10 million will come from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

Additionally, Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key announced that they would spend $1 million to purchase a strategic stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) to help districts who might struggle to maintain adequate supplies of PPE at the beginning of the school year.

Arkansas has recorded 824 new cases of COVID-19 since Sunday for a total of 6,299 active community cases in the state. To date, the state has recorded 39,447 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Pulaski and Washington Counties led the way in new cases of COVID-19, while Craighead, Benton, Sebastian and Jefferson Counties also recorded elevated cases of the virus.

Nine additional hospitalizations have been recorded since Sunday for a total of 489. Of the hospitalized patients, 110 are on ventilators, an increase of seven since Sunday. Seven additional deaths have also been recorded for a total of 408.

The state has finished just over 164,000 tests in July, well behind its original goal of 200,000. Since Sunday, the state finished 5,924 tests. Interim Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said he thinks the state will reach 180,000 tests by the end of the month. Lower testing numbers are due to a combination of factors, but mainly the lack of consistent results from commercial testing labs. To help increase the state’s testing numbers, the Department of Health ordered 200 COVID antigen test system machines for use at the Public Health Lab. The first shipment of machines should arrive next week, the governor said.

Heber Springs Fire Department was called out Wednesday, July 22 for a fire at a single-story commercial building on South 8th St.

The fire was threatening nearby homes. Firefighters were able to set up large diameter water hoses and douse the fire before it spread.

Five officers on scene were provided via Survival Flight cross-training, the department reported.

Fire fighting

Foothills Chapter stream team in Damascus

QPS receives national recognition, given Model PLC School status (copy)

The Quitman Public Schools District was nationally recognized last week as a Model PLC School.

“They are the first district in the state of Arkansas to achieve this honor and only the 19th district in the nation to achieve this status,” Arkansas Department of Education Director of Specialty Projects Missy Walley told the Log Cabin Democrat. “Quitman School District has worked hard to accomplish this honor.”

To become a Model Professional Learning Community (PLC) School, Walley said a school must:

Demonstrate a commitment to PLC concepts.

Implement those concepts for at least three years.

Present clear evidence of improved student learning.

Explain the school/district’s culture, practices and structure and submit those descriptions for consideration to the PLC Review Committee.

The small-town district was awarded Model PLC School status through the Arkansas Department of Education and by Solution Tree.

According to AllThings PLC, a professional learning community is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators.”

The school’s national PLC status shows the district has strong support from the community and within the district, Quitman Superintendent Dennis Truxler said.

“Our patrons are very involved in helping make Quitman the best place for students to be educated as possible,” Truxler said. “A good example of community support would be the passing of a 2.5 [millage] tax increase to help with teacher raisers and needed renovations.”

Along with community support, the district has educators who work diligently to ensure students are learning to the best of their abilities.

This often means pulling together resources and working alongside one another.

“As far as the school staff’s efforts, our teachers are second to none when it comes to working together to give the very best they have to offer,” the QPS superintendent said. “With the leadership of building administrators Michael Stacks and Julie Wallace, our staff constantly goes above and beyond for our students. At Quitman, we are family.”

The Arkansas Department of Education specialty projects director said it was no surprise the small-town district earned this national recognition.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working and learning with [the] Quitman School District,” Walley said. “This is only one of many accomplishments to come for [the] Quitman School District. They are moving mountains.”

Van Buren County
VBC wet vote signatures submitted to clerk's office

CLINTON — The group “Let Van Buren County Vote!” turned in its petitions Monday July 27 at the county clerk’s office. If the petitions are approved by County Clerk Pam Bradford, Van Buren County voters will have an opportunity for a vote in the general election for the county to become “wet” by permitting alcohol sales.

Group representative David Byard, of Fairfield Bay, said 4,291 signatures were turned in, in excess of the 3,852 required to put the wet vote on the ballot. Bradford has 10 days to certify the signatures, after which an additional 10 days are available for an outside group to petition to reject any signatures.

Byard said he expected the signatures will be examined closely by groups working to keep the vote off the November ballot. Such groups are funded by organizations supported by out-of-county liquor stores, he said. Byard said a lobbyist from a group opposing the wet efforts was video taping him as he dropped off signatures at the clerk’s office.

Byard was confident since the number of signatures was over the required number.

“They need 440 signatures overturned to have the petition turned down.” Byard said.

Any number less than 440 would allow the matter to remain on the ballot, since more signatures than required were turned in.

A current lawsuit against Let Van Buren County Vote! calls into question the nature of the form the group used for signatures, which had a space for email address or phone number. Byard said he was not concerned about the suit, since the group used a petition form used successfully by another county in the past.

The 4,291 signatures supporting placing the wet vote on the ballot represent 43 percent of Van Buren County registered voters. Byard said the actual percentage was even higher. As the group went door-to-door for signatures, it found a number of voters registered in the county were no longer there, having moved off for work or other reasons.

“The number is closer to 60 percent of the real total [of registered voters],” Byard said.

Let Van Buren County Vote! was made up of just over 30 volunteers, Byard said, who performed various tasks in supporting signature gathering. This included volunteers who attened to clerical functions, as well as those who went out in two-person groups for door-to-door signature gathering.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a seven-week hold on signature gathering, Byard said. Once Gov. Asa Hutchinson re-opened restaurants, the group went back out signature gathering, while practicing public health guidelines including masks, and signers using their own pens, he said.

Law enforcement seeing a rise in fraud unemployment claims

HEBER SPRINGS — Area law enforcement reports and up-tick in fraud reports where a person’s identity is being used to falsely apply for unemployment benefits.

In the past several weeks 16 reports have been made to Heber Springs Police from someone whose name was used to apply for unemployment. Cleburne County Sheriff Chris Brown reports over 10 cases have been reported to his office in recent weeks.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released a statement through her office July 2 which stated that office had received “... over 100 complaints...” of fraud unemployment applications.

An online-only application process, made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing guidelines, had made it easier for fraudulent claims to be filed, the Attorney General’s release stated.

Unfailingly, the local reports include that the person applying did not receive an unemployment check, and the person whose name was used to apply for the check was not affected. According to a Heber Springs Police Department spokesperson, the fraud is spotted when an employer receives notice of a claim being filed by an employee who is still employed by and working for the business.

The employer contacts the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services (ADWS) – the agency responsible for unemployment claims – and no payment is sent out. Claims seem to follow certain businesses, where a given business will receive several fraud unemployment request over a three or four day period, before the fraud moves to other businesses, the department spokesperson said.

A recent release from Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce cited the rise in fraudulent unemployment claims, and recommended business managers sign for ADWS electronic alerts, to speed the notification process and allow a quicker response in alerting of fraudulent claims.

The Attorney General’s July 2 release reminds that receiving funds, even if one did not apply for them, is unlawful.

Traffic gunshot leads to charges

HEBER SPRINGS – A report of a gun shot the evening of July 13 led to the arrest of a Mount Vernon man by Heber Springs police, according to online court records.

Patrick Cook, 23, of Mount Vernon was charged with aggravated assault, possession of drug paraphernalia and theft by receiving.

In the report, police were called after a gunshot was heard near 7th and Martin streets. Officers arrived and spoke to two people who said they were watching a nearby apartment, suspecting it was being involved in drug traffic in the area. They saw a Chevrolet S10 pickup leave the apartment and followed it, hoping to get its license number, the report stated.

As they followed the pickup came to a stop and a man got out of the passenger side and fired a gun at them, they told police.

Officers checked the area and found a .380 caliber shell casing on the ground. The officers then went to the apartment and spoke to the people there, who told them two men had been there but had left, one of them being Cook, who matched the description of the man who fired the gun. (The second man was a suspect in a gun theft “earlier in the week,” per the report.) A “Be on the Lookout (BOLO) was placed on the two men and the truck.

The pickup truck was spotted at a nearby gas station a short while later by a Cleburne County Deputy. Officers arrived. An attendant told officers the passenger in the truck had just been in the restroom. Officers checked, and found a glass meth pipe and syringe in the restroom.

Officers then questioned Cook after confirming no one had been in the restroom after him. Cook was “very cooperative,” per the report, and admitted that the syringe and pipe were his. He also admitted to police that he had a gun earlier, and had fired it “during the incident,” per the report.

Cook also admitted to having been at the apartment earlier. He said he left and while being followed “... he was paranoid...” and fired at the van, thinking it was being driven by a man with whom he had “a bad history.”

Cook told officers where to find the gun, which had been hidden in the pickup truck. Officers recovered the gun. Cook was then taken to jail and booked on his charges. Bond was set at $10,000. Online court records show Cook remains in custody pending bond.

Cleburne County
Charges after 90 mph car chase

A stolen car and a high-speed car chase resulted in charges against a man in a July 3 incident.

Ryan Joshua Vinyard, 20, no address given, is charged with theft by receiving and possession of a controlled substance, per online court records.

Events began when Cleburne County Sheriff’s Deputies were called to a home 7:15 a.m. July 3 where theft and burglary were reported. Victims spoke to the man and woman of the home, who told them a window had been broken and guns and jewelry was now missing. A 2015 Dodge Challenger was also stolen, deputies were told.

A “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) was issued for the car.

At 11:27 a.m. a deputy on patrol spotted the car at the interaction of highways 110 and 25 North. The deputy was able to get close to the car near Spring Park and “attempted to initiate a traffic stop.” The car, instead, “fled at a high rate of speed,” later reported as over 90 mph.

As the car sped, the deputy followed, both moving toward Main Street. The deputy reported the car wove in and out of traffic including crossing into oncoming traffic before being “wrecked out” near Fox Lane and landing on its roof.

The deputy moved toward the now-wrecked car and the driver hoped out and ran into woods near the bypass. The passenger, who had been partially ejected in the accident, tried to crawl out of the car’s back window. He told the deputy he was hurt and the deputy stayed with him while an ambulance was called. This was Vinyard. He told police he had been given a backpack by the driver shortly before the wreck. The deputy looked and spotted a small bag inside which held a “white crystalline substance.”

A short while later Heber Springs Police were able to take a man into custody who matched the description of the man who ran into the woods after the car wreck. He was turned over the Sheriff’s Department. The man, Harley Davidson Selvidge, admitted to being the car’s driver. He also, per the report, admitted to having used methamphetamine.

In questioning at the Sheriff’s office, Selvidge told an investigator that he and Vinyard had driven the car, which had been given to them, to Heber Springs to sell it. When police tried to stop him he ran, knowing the car was stolen, he told the investigator, the report stated.

Selvidge also told the investigator his driver’s license was suspended. He was booked into jail.